Good Enough Isn’t, Part 2

Several months after meeting Jane, George Regas, Rector of All Saints Pasadena, preached a sermon about people in one’s life who are “always there” to cheer one on. Using the metaphor of Genet’s play, The Balcony, George suggested one could think of gathering our supporters and placing them in a balcony where we could imagine them cheering us on and offering encouragement when we are in need.


Crossing the lawn following the service, I spotted Jane coming toward me wearing a beaming smile. She took my hand and giving it a tight squeeze said, “You’re in my balcony.”


In 1993, I organized a tour to Israel with Rich Thyne. Several members of All Saints participated in that group. Among them was Jane. As a result, again, Jane and I connected.


Jane had recently had her first diagnosis of cancer and was uncertain as to the outcome; but, was determined to go with the tour to Israel. Some weeks before departing for Tel Aviv, Jane called me at my office.

“I want to go into the West Bank to visit Palestinian refugees,” she said.


I gasped at the idea thinking I could dissuade her from this silliness by telling her of the dangers involved. Besides, no one had ever asked me before and I was more than honest in my reply that I know nothing about how to organize such a foray.

“The liability is enormous, Jane,” I said. “And to be honest, no one has ever asked me before.”

“I can’t go to Israel and return without an understanding of both sides of the issue,” Jane said flatly. The conversation ended and nothing more was said about the issue.

On the group’s return from Israel, I was greeted with stories of the wonders of the trip and particularly how Jane had organized a side trip into the West Bank where members of the group toured a detention camp and met the families of Palestinian Christians through St. George Church, the Episcopal Church ministry in Jerusalem. To a person, the journey into the West Bank was the high point of their Israel experience. Not one person failed to say to me that the experience changed their life.

That, in my awareness of her, is the quintessential Jane: passionate about life and about issues of social justice. Jane would set out on a task, accomplishing it quickly and quietly and without drawing attention to herself.

Less than a year later, Jane succumbed to cancer. At her memorial service, Jane’s son, Ty, remembered his mother taught him that “good enough isn’t.” I was reminded of Jane’s trip to Israel and how it was not good enough for her to go there as a tourist. She must see, experience, understand, and be able to articulate the essence of the situation.


I am also reminded that organizing a tour without consideration of current social issues in all their aspects is not good enough. As I begin planning a tour itinerary, I think, what would Jane want to know about this destination?

Jane and I connected. Briefly. The impact of that brief connection is dramatic in my life.

Good Enough Isn’t, Part 1

Jane died before I said “good-bye.” I wanted to remind her of how we met and our friendship’s special significance. Jane and I were not friends in the deeply devoted sense that Jane and Annie were friends. We were acquaintances who connected and who were strengthened by our presence in each other’s life.


I met Jane at a workshop for small group leaders as a part of the small group ministry at all Saints Church. Jane and I were selected to participate in a group as a way of demonstrating how the small group dynamic works. Eight of us sat on chairs in a circle on the floor of the Forum room, rather like goldfish in a fishbowl while the other workshop participants looked on. Karen Holmes, a lovely woman with a rather stern presence facilitated the group. Each member of the group was to make some comment about the state of their life at that moment or to acknowledge a feeling—it could be anything that was important at that instant.

I don’t recall what I said or what anyone else except Jane said. As the group members spoke, each in turn, I listened then went on to the next. “I’m going through a divorce,” Jane said. “It’s upsetting. Not only emotionally, but physically. My husband won’t talk to me. We have to sell our home. I have to move. We’re down to dividing the spoils. Going through the LPs to decide who gets what.”

A moment of silence and on to the next person. Having made the circuit, Karen attempted to draw the group into some sort of discussion or reaction.
“Excuse me, please,” I said. “But I want to go back to Jane. Jane, I heard what you said about your divorce. It must be very painful for you. I’ve gone through that process and I know how painful it was for me.”

Jane acknowledged that it was painful, and we exchanged some conversation about dealing with the pain. I mentioned a book I found helpful in getting me through my misery.

The group activity continued for whatever period was intended at which point Rick Thyne and Linda Lewis came down to comment on the interaction that had taken place. They were particularly pleased at the exchange between Jane and me as it exemplified what small group interaction is intended to accomplish: give participants a neutral space in which membership is unconditional, where they can be heard and not judged.
Jane and I connected. Following the workshop, I spoke with Jane and she thanked me for hearing her. I told her I would bring her a copy of the book I mentioned, and we agreed that we would meet each other at church on Sunday.

Some weeks after giving Jane the book, she told me it had been helpful and that she passed it on to her ex-husband.

“I’m having a dinner party for my new friends and I’d like John and you to come.”
What was special about the dinner party was Jane. She had gathered a group of 10-12 people—all from All Saints. The evening was spent in pleasant conversation and the enjoyment of each other’s company. As we were all beginning to leave, Jane gathered everyone into the living room where she had us join hands in a circle.

“I want to welcome my new friends to my new life,” Jane said. “Thank you all for coming.”

Holding Hands

“Hold my hand,” Mom says as we cross the street. I am very young.

When she comes for a visit in September 2003, Mom is 83. I am 59. Mom loves going for rides and enjoys hiking in the woods. “How would you like to drive up to the Ancient Bristle Cone Pine Forest?” I ask.

“That would be lovely,” she says.

I pack a picnic lunch and we set off on the two-hour drive north on Highway 395. The day is sunny. The eastern Sierra sky is sapphire blue.

On arrival at the Visitor Center, we walk through the exhibits then go into a small auditorium for a short film about the Bristle Cone Pines. After the film I find a table in a picnic area. Mom sits on a bench across from me. I spread a tablecloth, lay out napkins, and unpack our lunch. Tuna sandwiches—Mom’s favorite—chunks of fresh cantaloupe and honey dew melon, and oatmeal raisin cookies with walnuts.

“There’s a trail that goes up the mountain where there are wonderful views and where we can see Bristle Cone Pines,” I say.

“Well, let’s go,” says Mom.

We start at a leisurely pace, the switchback trail zigzagging at a steep incline. “I need to sit down,” Mom says, about halfway up the mountain when she spots a bench at a turn in the trail. After a brief rest, Mom is ready to go again. We hike on.

The view from the top of the White Mountains steals my breath. Three or four large bristle cone pines stand, sentinel-like, on the moonscape terrain of the mountainside. For thousands of years these gnarled and dwarfed trees have stood silent witnesses to history. “It’s like being in church,” Mom says. We stand in silence.

The trail, a series of crude, uneven steps constructed of shards of talus covers the ground, leading down the mountainside to the parking lot below. Mom walks ahead of me, her step uncertain. “Why don’t you walk behind me,” I say. “Put your hands on my shoulders.” I lead off slowly.

“Well, that was just beautiful,” Mom says. As we drive out of the parking lot, my eye catches the elevation posting. Ten thousand feet. We hiked up another thousand feet from there. My mother is 83 years old. She has high blood pressure. What was I thinking?

Mom naps on the drive home. It’s dark when we arrive. We enjoy a cup of Bengal spice herbal tea in front of a crackling fire. Mom is agitated. “I’ve never felt this way before,” she says.

“How is that?” I ask.

I don’t feel like I can make a decision,” she says. I don’t know what to do.”

Unaware she is in an early stage of senile dementia, I humor her. “You need to remember all you’ve accomplished in your life,” I say. “A young widow with three small children to raise, a successful career.

I go into the kitchen to serve dinner. Mom sits on a stool at the counter. “I just don’t know what to do,” she says again.

Like watching a photograph come into focus in developing solution, her dilemma is clear. This is serious. I am looking at an old and frail woman, once young and powerful, who never met a challenge she wouldn’t face. I am shaken by an awareness I want to deny. But this is not the time. I need to be present for my mother.

“Remember,” I say, “how you told me about arguing with your mother?”

“Oh, yes,” she says. “I always told her ‘Well, when I’m the mother…’” She smiles.

“That’s sort of where we are now,” I say.

“What do you mean?”

“It’s like I’m the parent now. Our roles are changing.”

“I don’t understand.”

“When I was little, you always held my hand when we crossed the street.”

“Yes, I did.”

“Well, maybe it’s time for me to hold your hand.”

“Oh,” she says after a pause, “like today when we came down the mountain.”

Caught

Mary and I divorced after eighteen years of marriage. I packed up my secret along with the rest of my life and moved to Pasadena. The lure of a new life was bittersweet. Failure at marriage and separation from my daughters gave me dark days. The sweetness I expected from the opportunity to reinvent myself failed to offset the sadness.

Susan and Sharon came to Pasadena every other weekend the first year I lived there. Two hours from Bakersfield, Mary and I split the difference, each driving an hour to a mutually agreed on meeting point.

As Susan became busier with high school activities, she stopped coming as often. Though the distance between us was a natural part of adolescence, divorce aside, geographical separation intensified my pain.

Sharon continued the usual routine. One weekend she brought her friend Amy. Earlier that week we talked on the phone about plans for the weekend. “Me and Amy want to go to Hollywood,” Sharon said. “I think it will be fun to see movie stars just walking down the street.”

In the 1980s, Hollywood Boulevard was sleazy, grimy, and festering with homeless people, runaway teenagers, drug addicts, and hustlers. I was reluctant to expose my daughter too soon to the hard facts and realities of life. Not wanting to rob Sharon and Amy of their innocent expectations of Hollywood’s glamour, I put my concerns aside. My friend John and I drove them to Hollywood Saturday afternoon. They didn’t see the sleaze. They didn’t see the grime. They didn’t see movie stars.

When we returned home after going out to dinner, Sharon asked, “Can we go down to the spa?” We changed into swimsuits. I gave everyone towels and we headed to the spa. The night air was cool. It wasn’t long before the girls went back to the apartment. John and I stayed in the spa.

Sharon and Amy were in the den watching television and getting ready for bed when John and I came upstairs to the apartment. John changed and went home. “We had a fun day, girls,” I said, as I headed for bed.

Sunday morning when we returned home from church, I fixed lunch. Sharon was unusually quiet. “Is anything wrong?” I asked.

“Nothing,” she snapped. I let it go.

“After lunch,” I said, “you girls need to get your things gathered up. Amy and I looked at Sharon who sat head down, aimlessly pushing a shred of romaine around her plate with a fork. “Excuse me,” I said, standing up from the table. “I’ll be right back.”

I walked down the long hallway toward my bedroom. Passing the door to the den, I glanced in. The room was a mess. It looked like their bags had exploded scattering clothes and hair stuff everywhere. On the floor. On the unmade sofa bed. On the chairs. How is it possible, I wondered, to create such chaos?

I returned to the dining room where Sharon and Amy sat in silence. “I’ll clear up the lunch stuff,” I said. “You girls get packed.” We need to leave in about an hour.”

Amy got up from the table and went to the den. Sharon sat, motionless, then silently stood and walked away without looking at me. What is going on, I thought. I cleared the dining room table.

With the kitchen cleaned up and still troubled by Sharon’s sudden change in behavior, I took my concern to the den. On the way, I passed through the living room where Amy sat on the sofa, bag packed, ready to go. The draperies in the den were closed. In the dim light, Sharon listlessly picked up clothes and other belongings.

“Did I do anything to upset you?” I asked.

“No,” she said, jamming a wadded night gown into her bag.

 “If I’ve done anything, I need to know what it is so  I can have an opportunity to make it right.”

“Everything is fine, Dad.”

“I don’t think so,” I said.

The hour drive to meet Mary passed in silence.

“Thanks for the week-end,” said Amy as she closed the back door behind me.

“Bye,” Sharon said, opening the passenger door and getting out of the car without looking at me. She got into the front seat of Mary’s car, closed the door, and looked straight ahead.

The change in Sharon’s behavior nagged me on the drive back to Pasadena. That evening, I called her. “I’m concerned about the way you behaved,” I said. “I need to know what that’s all about.”

“You really want to know?” she said.

“Yes,” I said. “I do.”

“You remember last night when we went down to the spa and Amy and I came back up to the apartment?”

“Yes,” I said.

“I ran out on the sun porch to wave at you and John.”

“Uh-huh.”

“Dad, you were kissing John.” Her simple statement tore through my consciousness. My secret was out. My worst fear confronted me. Against my will. This isn’t how it’s supposed to happen. It’s too fast. In an instant, I was caught in an emotional storm.

“I-I,”

“Dad,” said Sharon, cutting me off, “is there something you want to tell me?”

“John,” I said, in a frantic search for words to cast doubt on what she thought she saw, “John is a very good friend.”

“Are you trying to tell me you’re gay, Dad?”

I was unprepared for the question, least of all from my twelve-year-old daughter. Silence.

 “I’m trying not to tell you,” I said, at last.

The sound of her crying was a cruel indictment.

“I’m sorry, Honey,” I said. “I understand if you are angry with me.” It will never be possible to reconcile this, I thought. I was caught. Living a lie. And now I faced losing my daughters and maybe my whole family.

“I’m not angry because you’re gay,” she sobbed. “I’m angry because you didn’t tell me.”

“I’m sorry.” We were silent for a time. “I think I’d better talk to your mother,” I said at last.

“Hi,” said Mary, her voice flat, emotionless.

“Now you know my secret,” I said as I tried to prepare myself for the angry barrage I expected and deserved.

“That explains a lot,” Mary said.

A Spiritual Journey: On the Path

When I was seventeen, I had a view of my life. I saw myself as well-educated with a good job, a home, and friends. I did not see myself in any kind of relationship. “I don’t think I’ll ever get married,” I said to my mother.


“Of course you will,” she said. “Everybody does. It’s what you’re supposed to do.”


My father was the youngest of six children. A significant gap separated him from his five older siblings. I had first cousins my parents’ age. The boys, described as hellions, made a dramatic change once married. “You wouldn’t believe the change in Teddy,” my grandmother said. “It just goes to show the right woman makes all the difference.”

At 24, in college, I met a woman. We became good friends and married, as I was expected to do. We put each other through college and graduate school, built careers, bought a home, and raised two daughters.

After 19 years of marriage we divorced.

At the same time, the community college where I was library director faced financial uncertainty. The board of trustees and administration decided the college’s fiscal difficulties could be solved by reducing the number of senior faculty. As union members, the affected faculty challenged the RIF. I opted not to join the action. If they don’t want me here, I thought, I don’t want to be here. I found a new job and moved to Pasadena to begin a new life.


A professor in my doctoral program at USC found me through my business. We became friends. He invited me to attend All Saints Church in Pasadena. The first Sunday I attended All Saints the sound of the pipe organ and the procession of the choir and clergy into the church brought me to tears. I felt at home.


I joined the Covenant group to become a member of the church and subsequently became a Covenant small group leader.


The Gay and Lesbian All Saints(GALAS) ministry provided a positive, supportive, safe, caring, and loving environment in which to come out.

I was asked to serve on the parish council. The first meeting of the council was a retreat at a park in Altadena. Typical of All Saints’ small group focus, each member of the council introduced him or herself and shared an aspect of their spiritual journey. Dick, talked about his struggle with alcohol, Alcoholics Anonymous, and finding his way to All Saints.


A day or two later, I wrote in my journal about whether it was possible I might be alcoholic. “I am an alcoholic,” I wrote. I challenged myself to read the words aloud. “I am an alcoholic,” I said. What followed was a miracle. I felt a powerful force, the hand of God, reach into the darkness of my life to take away the obsession to drink. Thirty-one years ago, God removed from my life the need or desire to drink alcohol.

I called Dick to tell him of my experience. He invited me to attend an AA meeting where he introduced me to supportive, accepting, and loving people who helped me find my way into the twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous and the beginning of a new life in sobriety.


In AA when we share our journeys we talk about our experience, strength, and hope. We describe what life was like when we drank, what happened, and what life is like now.


Today, I live the life I envisioned at age seventeen.

Blogus Interruptus

derwerffboggg was interrupted by renewed interest in genealogical research. I dropped blogging to focus on family history. I found paternal second great grandparents. Using DNA, I found my mother’s biological father. I identified Empire Loyalists in Canada and 1640s Colonial ancestors in Connecticut. I enrolled in a ProGen Study Group, an 18-month professional genealogy training program sponsored by the Board for Certification of Genealogist (BCG). Neither time nor effort wasted.

At the time I stopped blogging , September 16, 2014, I had developed a personal blog challenge: Write 26 blog posts on 26 topics, a total of 676 blog posts. Publishing two posts per week would take six and a half years.

Fast forward to today, September 10, 2020. I published 31 blog posts. That’s five posts per year. At that rate, writing the remaining 645 blog posts will take 129 years.

I love to write, especially about people, places, ideas, and events that enrich my life. I’m going to take another shot at my personal blog challenge. Wish me luck. And stay tuned.

My Photo Scanning Project

Boxes of loose photo prints, cds loaded with digital images, and crates of framed and unframed portraits cover the top of a table in my studio. Beneath the table are stacks of photo albums and small boxes containing several hundred slides. My mother’s albums and scrapbooks are stacked on the floor at the left end of the table.

I call this chaos “my photo scanning project.” It’s a “project” because my goal is to impose order on the chaos. The table sits against a wall that is at my back when I am at my desk. Dog-like, the project nips at my heels, an ever present, constant, and nagging reminder of its need for attention. Progress is slow, the work tedious and time consuming.

The prints, slides, and digital images represent several lifetimes. In addition to my own photographs, I inherited my mother’s photographs. I have photographic images spanning six generations of my family’s history. Many of the photos I want to keep. I don’t want albums in various states of dilapidation. And, I do not want boxes of loose prints.

The images I shoot with my digital single lens reflex (DSLR) camera are uploaded to my computer where they are stored and organized in an Adobe Lightroom catalog. I keep the catalog up to date and the images accessible by organizing them into collections and assigning keywords. I recently began geocoding images, a process that is simplified with an application on my iPhone.

My goal is to make family photos easily accessible by uploading scanned images to a Lightroom catalog where they are organized into collections with keywords. I pass on the original prints to family members who want them. My niece is especially interested in collecting old family photos, so I offer her the oldest prints.

Organizing a group of prints for her, it occurred to me they are worthless without knowing who is in the photo, where, and when it was taken. I created a table in a Word document to accompany the prints. Using Photoshop, I made thumbnails of the photos and copied the thumbnails into the table. I added the image file name, the names of people in the photo, the place the photo was taken, and the date.

As my photo scanning project proceeds, new ideas about how better to organize the catalog occur to me. When completed, the project will provide a well-organized and informative family history resource.

From chaos, order.

Remembering My First Home

My first home was an apartment over the garage of the home of Mr. and Mrs. Johnson. Across the street was the bakery where my dad worked. I remember nothing about the apartment; but, I have two vivid memories of the neighborhood.

My cousin, Teddy, and me

My earliest memory is being trapped against a brick wall in an empty space between fifty-five gallon industrial drums on the sidewalk in front of the bakery.

Teddy, my fifteen-year old cousin, lifted me up and put me on top of the drums, probably because he thought I would think it fun to be taller than he was. There were 20 or 30 drums. I scampered across the tops of the drums, hopping from one drum to the next. Finding an empty space between the drums closest to the wall, I lowered myself into it, thinking I would surprise Teddy with a disappearing act. When my trick did not attract Teddy’s attention, I tried a different tactic. “Hey, Teddy,” I yelled, jumping up like Jack-in-the-box. Teddy looked at me. I laughed with great glee thinking I was funny and very clever.

“Come on, Champ,” he said. “Get over here. It’s time to go home.” I tried to climb out of the hole, but I could not. I tried several times to pull myself up and to get on top of the drums. There was nothing to climb on, nowhere to get a foothold to boost myself up.

“I can’t, Teddy,” I yelled. “I’m trapped.” I tried again. Only by holding my breath and straining with teeth-grinding exertion did I pull myself on top of a drum. I did it. Teddy did not help me. No one helped me. I walked across the tops of the drums to the place where Teddy was standing. He lifted me up and set me on the sidewalk. “Let’s go,” he said.

A fruit and vegetable vendor came through the neighborhood once a week. Everything about the fruit and vegetable man was silver. He had silver hair, a big silver mustache, and wore striped bib overalls. He had an old silver truck he started with a hand-crank. The truck had a flat bed covered with a silver canopy. A platform on the truck bed with sides that slanted up toward the center of the truck bed allowed the contents of the boxes of fruits and vegetables to be displayed.

A scale hung from the right hand corner of the canopy at the rear of the truck bed. I can see the old man now, placing big red beefsteak tomatoes in a bucket hanging from the scale then placing them in a basket held out to him. There were green bell peppers, golden peaches, plump watermelons, and cantaloupes. After filling everyone’s orders, the old man walked to the front of his silver truck. Bending down, he’d give the crank a quick turn. The engine would make chugging sounds. He’d climb into the cab behind the steering wheel and drive slowly down the street.

Willie & Punkie

Willie & Punkie

Willie & Punkie

Willemma and Delonas were my mother’s two youngest sisters. I am not certain where the “Will” of Willemma came from; but, my grandmother’s name was Emma. Delonas is easier. She was born in 1934. My grandfather was a Roosevelt Democrat.

Their family called them “The Tykes;” but, my grandfather’s cousin referred to them as “The Little Punks.” Delonas got singled out as “The Punk” which became “Punkie.” The name stuck. Willemma got shortened to Willie. They were Willie and Punkie ever after.

Willie and Punkie were, respectively, 11 and 10 years older than I. From the beginning, they were more big sisters than aunts. I thought they were beautiful and I loved them more than I can say.

My sister and I spent summers with them while they were still in high school. They devoted their full attention to us filling our days with lifelong memories.

Every morning after breakfast, they would take us out on the lawn. They swung, chased, summersault-ed, and cartwheel-ed with us. They did handstands and jumped rope. We played ring around the rosy until we were dizzy.

And their hands. I can never forget the almond-cherry smell of their hands. Where did that divine smell come from? It didn’t occur to me to ask. I was determined, though, to find out.

I happened to observe that they ate Grape-Nuts every morning for breakfast. It was after breakfast while playing on the lawn that I noticed the smell of their hands. “Aha! It’s the Grape-Nuts,” my six year old brain concluded.

“Cornflakes or Cheerios, Denny?” Willie asked the next morning.

“Grape-Nuts,” I said.

“You won’t like them.”

“Yes, I will.”

Willie was right. I didn’t like them. But eating them was a small price to pay for cracking the secret of the scent.

Grape-Nuts were a disappointment. After breakfast, Willie and Punkie’s hands were almond-cherry scented. Mine were not.

Jergens ad circa 1957

I was an adult before I learned it was the Jergens lotion they rubbed on their hands after washing the breakfast dishes. Punkie used Jergens her whole life. Willie outgrew Jergens in favor of other, more sophisticated lotions. I will never outgrow memories of my beautiful and almond-cherry scented big-sister-aunts.

(Mis)Understanding Whitman

“To me the converging objects of the universe perpetually flow,
All are written to me, and I must get what the writing means.” –Walt Whitman

Walt Whitman is the principal of my pantheon of poets. For 50 years, Whitman has been my muse. To realize I’ve misunderstood him is a serious blow.

In the “Who goes there?” canto (Canto 20) of “A Song of Myself,” Whitman states that the converging objects of the universe flow to him, as though he were an oracle whose job it is to define the objects’ meanings for the rest of us.

That’s not it. “That’s not it at all,” T. S. Eliot might say. Whitman is saying the objects “appear” to him to flow. They appear to be written objects and he must figure out for himself what the objects mean. That’s much different than being an oracle.

In my 50 year relationship with this poem, I have understood it literally rather than metaphorically.

“I’ve got something to show you,” says Michael Goldman’s Muse. “Stand here.” Maybe that’s what Walt has been saying to me. The converging objects of the universe appear to flow. Standing on the bank of the river in which I see the objects flowing, my eye catches a hieroglyph, a metaphor, or a symbol. Like a tarot card or an I Ching tetragram, it inspires interpretation. I must explain what the writing means to me.

I’ve thought of the “Who goes there?” canto as a manifesto or creed. If it is a creed, it’s Whitman’s creed. “These are my symbols,” Whitman might say, “and this is what they mean to me. You have to find your own symbols and write your own interpretation.”

Whitman has been a constant companion who has served me well despite any misunderstanding. The clarity with which I now see the poem deepens my admiration of Whitman’s art putting our relationship on a higher level of understanding.